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Andy Sansom Interview, Part 2 of 2

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  •  DT: Andy, we’ve been talking about individual donors and one of the early people who was active, I believe, in trying to support land acquisition and especially with the Nature Conservancy was a fellow named Joe Heiser and I think you knew him. Could you tell a little about him?
    1:49 - 2187
    AS: Yeah, I had—obviously, for me, that—that period of—of the Conservancy, as—as most of my life, the greatest privilege has been the extraordinary people that I’ve gotten to meet and work with, and one of the most extraordinary was a man named Joe—Joe Heiser. Joe Heiser was a lifelong bachelor who died in the late eighties at the age of nearly ninety. He was born and—and lived all of his life, and died in the same house, on Kipling Street in Houston. And as a child, kind of like Teddy Roosevelt, he was sort of sickly, and—but he would sneak out at night whenever the circus came to Houston and
    2:35 - 2187
    he would go down and watch the men unloading the animals and the acts, you know, and putting up the big tent for the circus. And he became such a familiar feature of the arrival of the circus in Houston that they—that they knew him, and when he—when th--they’d expect him to show up at eleven o’clock at night. And they’d let him do stuff, like ride the elephants and, you know, they—they actually incorporated him into the set-up. And he was given, because of that interest in the circus as a child, he was given a book called Wild Animals of the World, or something, by P.T. Barnum. And—and, at that time, when you think of it, you know, the only place that people encountered wild animals was at a
    3:20 - 2187
    zoo or at the circus. And so, Joe’s—Joe’s interest in the environment grew out of that encounter with, you know, animals at the circus. And so that’s how he sort of became in—involved in—in conservation. And through his life he accomplished many, many interesting things. He was the man who had the mockingbird made the State Bird of Texas. He was the man who first had banned, a—a—apparently at—at the time of his—when he was in his early twenties, there was a lot of holly, beautiful native holly that would grow along Buffalo Bayou, and during the Christmas season, people would go in there and they would—they would harvest it by the, you know, by the truckload and
    4:08 - 2187
    create wreaths out of it to sell. But as a result, it was denuding, you know, and virtually eliminating the native holly along the Bayou. And Joe was able to get a—a law passed that banned, you know, the commercial harvesting of native holly like in 1922 or something. So, he—he became involved in the Nature Conservancy because he had worked on the preservation of a place up in San Jacinto County called the Little Thicket, which probably was one of the first privately purchased preserves in the country, and it was preserved by the Houston Outdoor Nature Club, although—although Joe put up the initial money for it and got it done. And I actually visited it with him in the late, late part of his life, when he was about eighty-seven years old, I said, "Joe, I’d like to go to the
    4:55 - 2187
    field with you." And—and he said, "yeah, that’d be great." And I said, "well, where would you like to go?" And he said, "I’d like to go to the Little Thicket." And I said, "when?" And he said, "well, I want to go in May because I can hear both the Indigo Bunting and the Painted Bunting at that time." And, in fact, I went there with him, he was blind, and we walked through the woods with him using a walker and he called both birds. He was able to—he was able to call wild birds to him. And I’ve seen photographs of him at an earlier age when he was able to actually bring wild birds in so that he could—they would perch on his arm or he could feed them. He—he, for the last oh, ten or fifteen years of his life,
    5:37 - 2187
    he became very interested in conservation on private lands. He was the first person, along with some—probably Mickey Burleson, to really advocate the preservation of natural diversity on private property and understand that that was a—an important strategy for protecting fish and wildlife in Texas. And so, Joseph Heiser put up, at—at at—the end of his life, a grant of $50,000, which started an organization called the Texas Land Steward Society, which became—today, you can see many things that have grown out of that. For example, each year now the Parks and Wildlife Department puts together the Texas Land Stewards Awards, which is kind of the Oscars of private land stewardship in Texas. Well, all of that started with that initial grant by Joseph Heiser that we were
    6:35 - 2187
    able to develop a whole idea of identifying land owners who were doing the right thing on their property, organizing them, keeping track of what they’re doing, and then ultimately recognizing them for what they’re doing. That started with Joseph Heiser. He was a—he was a neat man. He—he—I had the—I had the wonderful opportunity that whenever I would go to Houston to make a fundraising call or a business appointment, I’d go by and see him. And he’d let me just drop in, I could just go over there and drop in on him, and-and he was pretty sick in his old age. But he had this wonderful poem that he—that he—that he would always recite to me. And I wish I had it with me, I do not—I do not remember it, but it was a wonderful, very stirring poem that was written back at
    7:26 - 2187
    the turn of the twentieth century about the disappearing forests and the disappearing wildlife in the United States and the fact that, if we didn’t do something, we were going to—we were going to lose it. And the poem now would be almost, probably more than a hundred years old. But Joseph Heiser would always recite that poem for me and I would ask—and—and—and at the end of his life, I would ask him to. And sometimes, he would only remember bits and pieces of it, you know, he could only remember like one phrase or one verse. But he would always give me a little bit of his poem before I left. He—his favorite phrase was "the things that belong." He was not interested particularly in sort of the rarest natural features, or the rarest animals or plants. He was interested in
    8:17 - 2187
    the most common things. For example, Joe measured the lack of—the decline of natural diversity in the Houston-Galveston area by the—the decline of the number of turtles that he would see on the roadside in say, a—a trip that he would make every week for thirty years. He would—he would—he would watch things like, how many turtles he’d see on the roadside and he would record it. And so he would—his real concern was for things that you do—you know, that you would not normally think of as the Old Faithfuls, or the Big Bend National Parks, but the common animals and plants that—that—that—that—that you take for granted, but, in fact, were also disappearing. So, he—he was really
    9:03 - 2187
    something and he told me—I asked him one time how it was that he became a board member the first—of the first board of the national board of the Nature Conservancy, and he told me that it was because he was the only environmentalist that they could identify south of the Mason-Dixon line. And they needed somebody from the South.
    DT: We’ve talked about some private individuals and some private groups such as the Nature Conservancy, but you spent a number of your years in the public life and with public agencies. Can you talk about the next chapter, the Parks and Wildlife episode?
    9:44 – 187
    AS: Well, I, as I said, I—I had the great honor to do many of the—of the—of the big acquisitions for Texas Parks and Wildlife as their agent when I was working for the Nature Conservancy and so I became very familiar with the senior staff and the board members of Parks and Wildlife. And—and in 19—in—in 1986, Parks and Wildlife went through the Sunset Process, which is a process in the Texas State government which causes agencies to literally go out of existence unless they can justify their reason for being. And in that—in that process in the mid-eighties, as amazing as it—as it—as it sounds today, the Department was harshly criticized because it had not acquired enough
    10:29 - 2187
    land. And, in fact, the Department had ac—accumulated about $30 million worth of funding for land acquisition, which it had not spent. And there was a combination of factors, I think there was some resistance probably over the years, to doing it in the Department, and there was a lack of real expertise in acquisition. And so I was asked to join the staff of the Parks and Wildlife Department in December of 1987 to essentially be the "Century 21" of Parks and Wildlife. I mean, I—I went there to do the land acquisition for the Department. And, and as I said, the most interesting thing to think about, in the context of where we are today in public policy, was that there was a
    11:20 - 2187
    legislative mandate to acquire land, and particularly, natural areas. And so, I—I—I landed in that opportunity in a time when there was leadership support for it, when the—when the—when most of the land in Texas was for sale, because it was in the bust of the late eighties. And there were—and there were—there was land all over the state at rock bottom prices. And so, I went through the thirty million in probably two and a half years. And, and I had a—and it was an absolutely spectacular experience because I got to see some of the most significant places in Texas at the time. I wish we could’ve bought more, but by the time I finished, there had begum—begun, in effect, a kind of a backlash
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    to—to the acquisition. But, I was able to participate in the acquisition of Big Bend Ranch, the Devil’s River Natural Area, which is just above Dolan Falls on the Devil’s River. I bought the first non-game wildlife management areas in the history of the Department. One is a fabulous place at Smith Point, Texas called the Candy Abshier [Wildlife Management Area], which is a fallout grove of oak trees along the Texas coast. An area right near here called Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area, which is a bat cave. Another—another one is a place called Atkinson’s Island, which is right off of Morgan’s Point in Galveston Bay, which is an island in the middle of Galveston Bay. And so, it was an opportunity for me to—to really participate and play a role in adding fairly signi—significantly to the
    13:08 - 2187
    inventory of public lands in—in Texas, at least as managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife and to really understand and get a feel for what was out there in terms of the tremendous real estate, environmental real estate, if you will, in private hands in Texas. And after two and a half years in that job, my predecessor at Parks and Wildlife retired, and—as the Executive Director. And the [Texas Parks and Wildlife] Commission appointed a search committee to select a replacement and I was fortunate enough to be the only person that was employed by the Department at the time to be interviewed by the Commission and I was ultimately selected to be the Executive Director and became—became—became so in August of 1990.
    DT: You say that you started your affiliation with Parks and Wildlife basically as a land man, or an acquisition agent for the Department. Can you sort of explain the situation with private lands and why Texas has this peculiar, unusually small amount of public land, and why there has always been this interest, in some corners at least, in getting more public land?
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    AS: Well, Texas is unique among all the states in that it negotiated its entry into the United States as an independent nation. And so, it would be like, sort of, England, you know, joining the United States. Texas was an independent nation. And so, as such, it negotiated the terms of—of its statehood. And the most significant thing that it negotiated was the retention of its public lands. So that when Texas came into the Union, probably ninety-five percent of the state was actually owned by the government, at that time the Republic of Texas, subsequently, the State of Texas. And that land, that enormous estate, was its only asset, that was all Texas had was—was—was this vast inventory of public land. So what it did immediately was to begin to sell it off in order to
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    finance the government. So for example, the—the most—sort of prominent example of that is that three million acres in the Texas Panhandle were sold to a syndicate from Chicago that was used to construct the State Capital. So the State Capital itself was constructed by the sale of land in Texas, in fact, it was traded to that syndicate for the construction of the capital. All of our school systems and county governments and—and other institutions like that were totally financed by this sale of land, so that by, oh, I would—I would guess, certainly by the early part of the last century, almost all of the original public estate was gone, having been sold off to finance what would have otherwise been a completely broke government. And—and that’s—that’s how it is that today Texas is probably ninety-five percent privately owned and the situation is
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    completely reversed. Such that today, there’s a smattering of public land left in the Far Trans Pecos, principally owned by the University of Texas and the General Land Office. In the case of the lands owned by the Land Office, it’s in sort of individual sections, not very accessible, and then, what I think of as our true public lands which is the Texas Coast. An analogy for me of the Texas Coast is like if you lived in Colorado, you could go hiking in a National Forest, or a Bureau of Land Management lands. Well, the only thing that we have analogous to that is the twenty million or so acres along the Texas Coast, which is principally wetlands, but that is our public lands, and that’s all
    17:39 - 2187
    that’s left to speak of. So that’s why private land—private land conservation is so critical. And why I spent much of the—of the nineties at Texas Parks and Wildlife working on strategies that would encourage, assist, and help private landowners to find ways to protect fish and wildlife and botanical resources on—on—on private lands.
    DT: Maybe you could talk about some of those measures, whether it’s the support for the wildlife exemption or conservation easements or support for co-ops through the Land Trust Council, I mean, you’ve done many things, maybe you could cover some of those?
    18:22 - 2187
    AS: Well, the first, you know, the first and most important thing we—we had to do was get their trust. Because the—in the early part of the—the last decade, the relationship between private landowners in Texas and government was about as bad as it could be. So the first thing we had to do was convince landowners that—that in fact they could look to the government, in this case, Texas Parks and Wildlife, as a—as a source of assistance rather than a—than a threat. We did that by concentrating on things that they related to and needed. For example, the—the principal source of profit on most private ranches today in Texas is wildlife, through hunting. And so, knowing that landowners
    19:13 - 2187
    were beginning to lose income from declining oil and gas resources, cattle markets going down, and other factors, property taxes going up, they began to look to wildlife as a source of revenue. And we were there to say, here’s a way you can improve your deer herds, or manage your habitat to—to achieve greater economic gain from wildlife. And that was the way, I think, that we ultimately began to be much more accepted in—onto private ranches; and then from there, we were able to do things like say, well, you know, if you’re going to work on your deer populations, you might be interested in increasing this population of bats that you have over here in the cave on the backside of your
    19:59 - 2187
    property. Or you know, a particular population of rare plants that might exist on a wetland on your property and—and—and—and—and you do that by providing them with some incentives. We were able to pass Proposition 11 through the Legislature in the middle part of the decade which allowed people to manage for natural diversity and still get what was otherwise known as an agricultural tax exemption on their property, so there was a tax advantage that it was felt in real dollars. We actually pioneered in Texas the notion of giving landowners grants for protecting the natural diversity. We—we—we would get some money from the Endangered Species Act every year, and we were the first state to actually take some of that money and give it to private landowners for
    20:51 - 2187
    managing endangered species on their property. And today, that—that program is—is used in many states throughout the United States, so we’d actually give them dollars in some cases. I think, by far, one of the most important things that—that we were able to do was to establish a strong and—and—and respected and prestigious recognition program for landowners who really did the right thing. You can never do enough recognition. I mean, one of the things I’ve learned in my life is that when people do the right thing, you can never recognize them enough. And so, by creating a way to—to take those landowners who had really devoted themselves and their resources to protecting natural diversity on their properties and—and—and recognizing them for it, you caused
    21:47 - 2187
    an—an effect that really cascaded among all landowners because they would go, well, I’d like to have one of those signs on my fence, or I’d like to potentially be—receive that award as well. And so that has caused a tremendous amount of growing interest in—in private land stewardship. I think that the final thing has been to try to find—yesterday I was visited a—a—a—I participated in a conference in which the growing use of birding trails in Texas was discussed. That is, highway trails which are established for the purpose of bird watching. And many of the sights along those birding trails, now there’s one on the Texas coast, there’s one up through the hill country and there’s going to be
    23:36 - 2187
    one in the Panhandle, and soon one in East Texas. All of the—most of the sights along those birding trails are on private property. And the landowners have asked to be a part of it because, they may actually have a little bed-and-breakfast that they’ve set up on their land, or a—they’ve—they’ve got somebody on the property that’s—that’s willing to sort of serve as a guide to take someone out and see a rare species. So their—so you—to help them find ways of, once again, increasing economic return on their property through various consumptive and so called non-consumptive uses of wildlife.
    DT: I thought it was interesting that as a state agency you also provided a home to sort of a little laboratory for land trusts, the Texas Land Trust Council. Could you tell about that?
    23:30 – 187
    AS: Oh, I believe that we are on the cusp of—of the next—moving to the next level in private—private land conservation in Texas. And that—and that level will be reached when permanent commitments of stewardships begin to occur on private property through—through easements and purchase of development rights in—in—in ways that landowners actually make a commitment that even beyond their own lifetime, the preservation of their property in private hands will continue. It—it—it is always been my belief that you’re much more likely to cause that think—that type of effort to occur if you’re not dealing with the government. If the landowner does not have to deal with an agency of government, but can deal with a—a—an institution which is much more user
    24:21 - 2187
    friendly. And, to me, the best opportunity for that is a—is—is—is a local land trust, which, in fact, may be composed of the peers of landowners. Because that, if they look and they see on that board someone who may own a ranch right down the road, or someone whom they trust, then they’re going to be more likely to enter into a transaction which not only binds them, but their children and their grandchildren. And so, that’s why we work so hard to get this no—movement of local land trust established in Texas and I believe today there are about thirty or so. And that, to me, is one of the—in—in the years to come, you know, there will be hundreds. And they’ll be—they’ll be in places like
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    South Texas, below Corpus Christi; they’ll be in the Panhandle; they’ll be in—in—in the area around Brenham and Washington County; and you’ll see them springing up in places where people are—are motivated to try to find a way to preserve their property beyond their own lifetimes, but they need a vehicle to do it.
    DT: So you told us some of how Parks and Wildlife dealt with the public and particularly private landowners. Can you give us an insider’s view of how you negotiated among the bureaucracy at Parks and Wildlife? I mean, you’ve got three or four thousand people working there and a variety of different backgrounds and expertise, and politics, as well. I think you were noted as being a real diplomat at doing that. How did you manage balancing those different interests?
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    AS: Well, you know, first let me say that having said what I’ve said about private land stewardship, which I believe is as important an initiative as can be occurring in conservation in Texas today, it is not an excuse not to do public land acquisition. That—that as hard as we need to continue to work to encourage conservation on private lands, we got to redouble our efforts to make sure that we are continuing to acquire public land. And—and that’s the hardest one. And in answer to your question, that’s where the—the—the—really the notion of getting private landowners into conservation was not one that was—it was—it was almost like a no-brainer. And—and it was widely supported.
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    On the other hand, bringing land into the public inventory was extremely difficult and required all of the things that you asked about. First, every time you spend a dollar to buy a piece of land, that’s a dollar that you can’t spend on something else. So, from an institutional standpoint, that meant maybe we didn’t get to buy as many cars for the game wardens or, you know, raise the salaries of the employees or any of the other things that—that—that would be competing for the use of those initial capital dollars. And so, there’s an institutional resistance to investing in—in—in—in capital assets when—when we need money right now for—for day-to-day operating needs. Another built-in institutional resistance comes from the fact that when you acquire a piece of land, you
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    have to take care of it. And so there’s an attendant liability, if you will, for—for the management of the property. Which is why, in the middle of the nineties, we began to try to figure out ways to try to endow properties that we acquired so that there was some stewardship support going in. There’s a—there’s a—there’s a resistance to the acquisition of property that comes from the fact that most local government in Texas is financed by property taxes. And so every time you take a piece of property off the tax rolls, that—that causes a hit in the local school district’s budget, the local county’s budget, and in some cases, the local city budget. And so—so, there is an institutional
    28:56 - 2187
    resistance from that standpoint. But, all of those obstacles and many more, you know, required a lot of effort to overcome whenever an acquisition was made. But, I think in answer to your question, you just always got to try to keep everybody’s eye on the future and never let yourself be deterred from that. It’s probably a little presumptuous to make the—make the comparison, but I think sometimes we should look at acquisitions like Big Bend Ranch, which has—which has been controversial since the day it was acquired, and there are people today who would sell it if they had the opportunity to do so, like, look at it in the context of Alaska. When Seward bought Alaska for the United States, he bought it from the Russians for $8 million. The entire, what is now the entire state of Alaska.
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    And it was considered to be the most asinine, foolish things that the U.S. government ever did. And in fact, Seward was ridiculed for it, for the pur—it was called Seward’s Folly. And imagine today, from a conservation standpoint, what it would have been like if we had not acquired Alaska. And so I think when you—the—the—the—the principal thing that you have to always—never be deterred from is that—is to understand that, although people look at places that potentially—in—in our time, like Big Bend Ranch as being, why would they want to do that? Fifty years from now, or a hundred years from now people will say, I can’t believe they did that. And you have to always keep everybody’s attention focused on that point, is that we—we—we not only have a
    31:16 - 2187
    responsibility to the children of today, but we have a responsibility to the children of tomorrow. And it’s—and it’s equal. Our responsibility to the present generation is no greater than our responsibility to the future generation if we’re going to be true to ourselves as conservationists.
    DT: I understood that one of the real flashpoints for the tension of the direction of Parks and Wildlife came over endangered species. Can you explain the whole controversy and how you tried to manage that?
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    AS: Well, it was principally, in my judgment, a—a function of the way the federal system works. I—I advocated the listing of both the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo, I mean, I think there’s letters in the file to that effect. I supported their listing as endangered species. But, what—what the federal system subsequently did, was that it put people who were, and this is not said in the pejorative, but like, junior level biologists in a position of negotiating with mayors, or county judges, or people, you know, who—who—for whom they were not really prepared, by experience, or job title, or rank, to deal with. And so that was a—that was a—that caused a—a lot of stress that would otherwise—that—that—that—that—that really set us back in many ways in terms
    33:04 - 2187
    of public acceptance of conservation, particularly by private landowners during the nineties. I’ll give you an example, and Susan will remember this, there was a point in time in the nineties when the—when the junior biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Service prepared to publish a map—a series of maps that identified some sixteen counties in Central Texas as being, you know, critical habitat for these birds. Well, I think that probably was valuable information, but it ended up sort of being leaked out of the federal
    33:44 - 2187
    bureaucracy before its time, and everybody got frightened about it because they didn’t know what it was or what it was for. And it caused the whole sort of, Take Back Texas movement, which changed our politics in Texas. I mean, it didn’t just affect me; it probably was a principal reason why George Bush was elected governor in Texas. And it was because—because of a, frankly, a clumsy approach, you know, to what was basically sort of legitimate scientific information, put into the public arena in a—in a awkward way that caused us, in fact, us to be dramatically set back in many ways in terms of where we were trying to head. So, I think a lot of it just—just happened at—I’ll tell you that one of
    34:34 - 2187
    the things that I—I have learned over—that I believe deeply is that—that the p—p—public entities that are closer to the people, being state and local government, if their motivations are correct can do a better job of doing some of these things, particularly with local people. So therefore, what I’ve always figured is, my challenge was to bring the right motivations, the right science, to the government which was closest to the people, because that’s the government that they’re going to be the most likely to trust. And I think that, still, today is our single greatest challenge in Texas is to continue to fight at the local and state level to get those institutions more a—attuned to the goals of
    35:28 - 2187
    protecting things like endangered species and other things. Because I—I feel like—that they’re going to be more likely to—to gain the trust of the people who actually possess the habitat for these species than a government which is far removed from them. And I do believe that.
    DT: So for a long time science has seemed to get pretty politicized with hired-gun experts, and charges of junk science and good science. Can you talk about your experiences heading up a large group of biologists who were trying to make arguments that often got couched for political terms and you had to take the heat for it?
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    AS: Well, I think first and foremost…
    DT: Maybe you could talk about the state of the Natural Heritage Program?
    (misc)
    36:33 - 2187
    AS: I think the thing that’s probably most important about—that I—that I believe is most important about the administration of a public institution like Parks and Wildlife after eleven years, nearly twelve years, is the continued dedication to science as a basis for action. And in most cases, although you will—you will see some—some controversy in science, in most cases, if the people are competent enough, and the methodology they use is—is sound, then you’re going to see—you’re going to be able to glean some fairly factual basis for action. I mean, I—over the years, the—the number of times in which the science was evident as opposed to the science was debatable, there was many more times when it was evident, than when it was ambiguous. The key is to be able to act on that
    37:39 - 2187
    and I think the—there’s a couple a reasons that I and my colleagues were able to do that through most of those twelve years. The first and most important one is that the principal financing for biological conservation in Texas comes from the users. People who visit state parks, people who hunt, people who fish. And so therefore, that money is dedicated strictly for the—that purpose. It can’t be spent on health care, or education or highway construction. What that gives the en—the—an entity like Parks and Wildlife is an independence that other public institutions do not have. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to try to dramatically increase the regulation of the shrimping industry, as we did in the year 2001, if I’d have had to go up to the Legislature during that process and ask
    38:42 - 2187
    for the money to—to—to—all of the money to finance that effort. Because what would’ve happened, would’ve been that the contenders in that debate would’ve gone to their legislators and the appropriations process would have been affected, you know, by the—the wrong things. And so that’s why, really, that—that issue of self-funding is so important and why I fought so hard for it. And I believe that some level of—of self-funding is important to preserve the scientific in—integrity of these agencies. And that goes all the way back to Aldo Leopold. You’ll—you’ll see that throughout the history of Fish and Game management in the country is that—is that both the—the—the user funding through Pittman-Robertson and through local user fees and the fact that you have
    39:34 - 2187
    lay boards and commissions, like the Parks and Wildlife Commission, that can insulate you from politics a little bit, allows you to take action principally based on science. Now, you know, you’re going to have some controversy. You mentioned the Texas National Heritage program. We talked earlier about the Endangered Species program. Those instances, those controversies, in most cases, did not arise from imperfect science, or ambiguous science. What they arose from was a clumsy application of science or, perhaps, a less than artful, you know, application of science. And so the—the—the—the—the key, I think, is the backing, you know, of—of leadership for a administration based on science and a willingness to stand up for you, you know, when you make a
    40:32 - 2187
    decision based on science, and a—a—an artful, and as you, the term you’d use, a diplomatic, sometimes, ability to deploy that science in just the right way. For me, the scientific evidence on the over-harvest of the Texas shrimp populations was very, very evident. What was difficult was to take an industry through the—the—a year’s worth of public debate, you know, to come out with a conclusion that actually applied that science toward the harvest of shrimp. Now, having said that, and having been an advocate through most—through a good part of the nineties for a kind of self funding for conservation in Texas, it is not possible, in my judgment, to make—certainly to make the capital investments necessary to meet the future conservation needs in Texas with the funding of the—of users. It isn’t possible. We have to be able to find another means to
    41:45 - 2187
    invest in conservation for the future. Here we are in the year 2002, and the last time Texas had a bond issue for the purchase of land was in 1967. What’s that, thirty-five years ago? So, most—even—even cities in Texas in the last year have passed more money for bond issues for park acquisition than the State of Texas itself has passed in the last thirty-five years. And that’s—that’s very, very inadequate. So I think you’ve got to find ways of—of finding capital funding outside the—the—the—the—the normal revenue streams that you normally think of. Because you’re never going to be able to invest in the future sufficiently by using revenues from hunting and fishing licenses and state park entrance fees and—and those sorts of—those sorts of sources.
    42:43 – 187
    DT: Can you talk about any of your negotiations with the Legislature in trying to get adequate money?
    42:55 - 2187
    AS: Yes, and some—some of that went well and some of it—some of it didn’t go well. You know, I found that as long as I was going up to the Legislature and saying, look, you know, in general, I can pretty much fund this Department based on revenues that we generate, then I was a pretty popular guy up there. You know, because it was unnecessary for the Legislature to dip into the till, you know, to—to put more money into Parks and Wildlife. It was only when it became obvious to me that the amount of money that we had to work with was inadequate, that I began to have some problems. And—and, there’s been plenty of—of—of work over the past three to four years that—that
    43:48 - 2187
    adequately makes the point that Texas is woefully under funded in terms of its investments in conservation. We rank anywhere from 45th to 50th among all the states in—in—in any category you want to pick in terms of the amount of money that we invest in conservation. And it—it—it became increasingly apparent to me that I was not doing an adequate job, as the CEO of the principal conservation agency in Texas, without pointing that out. And that’s—that’s when I began to—to have problems with the Legislature. And—and, I think that in time, that pendulum will swing. That it will not be too far in the future that the—that the people in the Legislature will begin to feel the obvious a—anxieties on the part of their constituents that Texas should invest more in the
    44:48 - 2187
    outdoors than it has. Every piece of polling data that you get your hands on, every indication of public sentiment indicates it, not only does the public feel like we need more investment in conservation, but they’re willing to pay more. That has not reached the leadership at this time, but it will. Ultimately it will, and that pendulum will swing and there will be more money spent on conservation. But it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s going to be a while.
    45:17 - 2187
    DT: What would happen when you would talk to a legislator who was not necessarily hostile, but just wasn’t supportive of giving more money to Parks and Wildlife and to conservation. What would he or she say as a reason?
    45:35 - 2187
    AS: Oh, one—one ex—one ex—example might be, "How can you come up here and ask me to spend more money for parks when I’m trying to finance a—a prison system, you know, to take care of crime in Texas?" Or, mean—meaning, you know, there are many things that, in the perception of legislative leadership, are more important than parks. Of course, my argument would be if we spent more money on parks, we’d probably be spending less money on prisons. So that’s one. Another one is that I think there’s a cultural, that—that leadership in Texas today still has a cultural antipathy to land
    46:17 - 2187
    acquisition, public land acquisition. That it’s part of a movement from a Legislature that has been dominated for virtually all of Texas history by rural interests, to one which will increasingly be dominated by urban interests. As that evolution continues to take place, that’s when that pendulum’s going to swing. But if you—you know, the fact is that—that our Legislature is changing from a—from an era, now 170 years long, in which everybody had a place like this one we’re at today, to go out and enjoy the out-of-doors. Where, either you grew up on a farm or a ranch or in a small town, or you had a relative that owned a farm or a ranch or some access to private property. That’s common in—in rural
    47:08 - 2187
    communities. There’s no real lack of opportunity to go outdoors. Well, for ninety percent of the people who live in Texas today, that’s no longer true. They don’t have an aunt or an uncle or a grandparent who owns a farm that they can simply, you know, throw the kids and the dogs in the car and go out and spend the weekend. They must have public lands in order to have outdoor recreation access. And, I believe that as that is manifest in terms of the outlooks of coming generations of legislators, then you’ll see a—then you’ll see a change in that culture. But, up until the present time, there’s simply
    47:50 - 2187
    been a lack of understanding by—by many, many leaders in Legislature as to why anyone would need to make an acquisition of public lands. I mean, who—who needs a park, I’ve got a farm. And—and that’s not—that’s not a criticism of rural life, it’s just a factor of the context in which most of our legislative leadership has—has—has come from.
    DT: For most of today’s visit, we have talked about scarcity and acquisition of land and protecting it. I understand that your most recent career chapter has taken you to Southwest Texas State University where you are working on another scarce resource, water. And I was wondering if you could tell me how you chose that new job and what you hope to achieve there and what you think some of the challenges are?
    48:54 - 2187
    AS: I believe that going forward, that there are three principal conservation challenges that face us in Texas and to some extent, throughout the United States. But, acutely here. The first is the continued fragmentation of—of family lands. We talked a lot today about private lands, what is happening as—as people leave the rural landscape, the size of land ownership gets smaller and smaller and smaller. I passed on the way—I don’t know whether you saw it, but driving in here today from Austin, there’s a great big sign that says 25-acre tracts. Well, there’s probably a hundred of those subdivisions in Blanco County now.
    49:41 - 2187
    The second issue is demographic. Conservation has always been principally led by those people who really enjoy and use the out-of-doors. First, they were hunters, anglers, then certainly hikers and backpackers and campers and birdwatchers and all of the people who—who actually engage in the outdoors had been traditionally in this country, both with their money and their political support and their activism, been the folks who have, day in and day out, been there to support conservation. And we’re facing a tremendous crisis in the sense that the majority of people in Texas, for example, in the years ahead will be people who have had no experience in the out-of-doors. In thirty years, the
    50:29 - 2187
    majority of Texans will be non-Anglos. Today, African-Americans and Hispanics probably hunt and fish less than three percent. Sixty percent of African-Americans have never been in a state park. And so, if we don’t find a way to bring these coming urban and diverse demographics into conservation, then there’s not going to be a political base to support it financially and politically in the years ahead.
    The third crisis is in water. Population of Texas will double in the next thirty years. And already today in Texas, the amount of water in some of our rivers is over-appropriated, meaning that if all the water, for example, that are—that is permitted to be withdrawn from the Guadalupe River were withdrawn today, it would be dry below New Braunfels.
    51:29 - 2187
    So, in some cases, we’re already out of water, and we’re going to have a doubling of our population in thirty years. So that is the most extreme natural resource crisis that we face. It’s brought about by a lack of—of, many things, and first and foremost, a lack of commitment to sustainability. That we’ve got to manage this resource, not as if it—it were unlimited, but as a resource that were finite, because water is finite. And so we have to manage it that way. Secondly, we have to recognize that these rivers are part of an environmental system. They are—river basins are both collectors and distributors of water, but there’s important things that happen with that water that are not always—that do not always come to our minds when we—when we think about distributing it. For
    example, all of those basin estuaries along the Texas coast are totally dependent on
    52:28 - 2187
    continued fresh water flowing down there to make sure that the habitat for the water fowl and—and all those commercial and sport fisheries are there. So, so a holistic approach to—to—to understanding river basins as systems is critical to managing that—that resource in the future. And what I am doing now, and attempting to do, and I’m learning, because this is an area that is—that is not new to me, but certainly to the depth that I’m into it is—it is a—a steep learning curve is to try to create there at the headwaters of the San Marcos River, which is the second largest spring west of the Mississippi River, an—an understanding of river basins and water systems as whole systems. That when you tinker with the water in the Edwards Aquifer, you’re going to affect the water in the
    53:19 - 2187
    estuary at the end of the Guadalupe that is the habitat for the whooping crane. And you can’t make a decision in one part of the basin that—that—that—that—that—without understanding that it’s going to have an impact elsewhere in the basin. And that is where that sustainability model is so important, is to understand that—that—that water is not only necessary for agriculture, which is where about eighty-five percent of it goes today in Texas, for industrial use and for urban use, but it also is important to make sure that there’s continued water flowing in those streams and into those basin estuaries. It’s an economic issue. Fishing along the Texas coast alone is probably a billion dollar industry, but it’s entirely dependent on continued fresh water going to the coast. We haven’t done as much on the demand side. It is thought that people, human beings, need
    54:22 - 2187
    about thirteen gallons of water a day for normal use; bathing, drinking, hand washing, and other—other basic uses. Americans use about sixty-five to seventy-eight gallons a day. So we’re many, many times over what the m—m—minimum requirements are. So we can do a lot in terms of reducing the demand for water. And we need to do that; that’s part of sustainability as well. It’s a—it’s a very, very critical issue to us. I—I cannot imagine living in a Texas where the Guadalupe River became a dry arroyo and not a clear running stream. But, if we—if we do not do something, that will be the case for our children. And there’s absolutely no question about it. We think of the eastern rivers as being pretty secure, but I can tell you that in my time at Parks and Wildlife the Colorado River, below—between Austin and Bastrop was basically threatened with dewatering. I
    55:31 - 2187
    mean, there—there was a time in which we literally believed, had not certain agreements been put into place with the Lower Colorado River Authority, that the Colorado River would have been dry below Austin. And—and that’s inconceivable. But it is—but it is going to happen unless we get a grip on it and—and—and try to resolve it. And if we don’t believe that it will happen, we can look at places like the other Colorado River that no longer flows into the Gulf of California, or vast areas of the Soviet Union in which have been completely dewatered, you know, because of misuse over—over—over—over time, so we—we—we can do it, we can do it. Every indication shows that for the public of Texas, water is the most important issue. If you ask Texans what is most important to them about the environment, they will tell you it is both the quality and the quantity of
    56:33 - 2187
    the water. But, once again, that message has not totally been absorbed by leadership. But I have every confidence that—that the work that my colleagues and I will be doing at—at San Marcos, and others, will—will, hopefully provide—help provide some answers.
    DT: Let me ask a closing question or two. It seems like you’ve done a lot of work in the areas of energy and land and water, not so much for yourself, but for your children and our children and grandchildren. Can you talk a little bit about how you can recruit them into a concern that you have for these resources?
    57:21 - 2187
    AS: Well, I think that—that—that the key to that is two things. The first is to provide an experience when—in which a young person has a direct encounter with the environment. I took the—Mickey Burleson and I took the first group of African-American kids from Austin canoeing on the Lampasas River. And most of these children had never even been out of their neighborhoods, much less in a canoe or on a river. And they were very, very uncertain. But, by the end of the trip, you’d have thought they’d been in canoes all of their lives. But, when we got to the sandbar where we were going to take the canoes out, one of the adult leaders was skipping rocks. And these children began to squeal because they had never seen anyone skip a rock. And so we got out of the boats and for the next two hours, we taught these black children who’d never even been down a riverbank, how
    58:35 - 2187
    to skip rocks. And that night, after the campfire was, you know, going down, and the dishes were washed and we were getting settled down, the adults were sitting around the campfire telling stories and the kids were back down on the river in the pitch black dark skipping rocks. So the first thing you gotta do is you got to get a kid into a situation where they get touched by an experience in the outdoors. And then the second thing you have to do, I think, is to create an example. For me, it was, perhaps, someone like Joseph Heiser. Or let—let a young person actually be in the presence of another person who has gotten it and has understood that the greatest contribution you can make is one that you will not experience in your own lifetime. And, and that’s probably—that’s probably—those two things would—would be the most powerful ways to recruit the conservationists of the future.
    59:40 - 2187
    DT: Well said. One more question. You’ve been busy, doing lots. When you have some time to relax and find a moment of serenity, where do you go in the outdoors? Is there a place that you especially enjoy, that’s beautiful and comforting?
    1:00:08 - 2187
    AS: Well, I try to go, if—if—if I can get away, I try to go to many places. I don’t—I—long ago, in spite of the fact that places like Matagorda Island, or Big Bend Ranch or others have great meaning for me, I try to not select favorites in the out-of-doors. I love to fly fish. I come to this place where we are today almost every week to work on—work on my writing projects and I take some time during the, you know, the course of that—that time up here to get out a fly rod and catch some fish. I have two dogs that love to get in the water, they are Labrador Retrievers that I work with, and their favorite place is Red Bud Isle, which is about four hundred yards from my house in the Colorado River. And I
    1:00:57 - 2187
    enjoy being there as much as I enjoyed being in Alaska. So, it’s just—it’s just a matter of—more so than—than—than selecting a favorite place, it’s committing yourself that whether or not you can just afford to go down to Red Bud Isle or whether or not you can afford to go down to the Texas coast, you know, for a couple of days, to—to making sure that that is part of your life.
    DT: Thanks.
    AS: Thank you.
    1:01:24 - 2187
    End of reel 2187
    End of interview with Andy Sansom

     
 
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Metadata

Title:Andy Sansom Interview, Part 2 of 2
Identifier:Sansom_Andy_2187
Related:Sansom_Andy_2186
Country:United States
State:Texas
City:Stonewall
Date:2002-04-13
CreatorSansom, Andy (interviewee)
Todd, David (interviewer)
Weisman, David (cameraman)
Spalding, Gary (light and sound technician)
Petersen, Susan (production assistant)
Goldsmith, Lacy (transcriber)
Johnson, Robin (transcriber)
Source:Conservation History Association of Texas, Texas Legacy Project Records
Language:en
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:Mini-DV